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Facebook conversation about jobs, renewables, etc... - 26/06/2013
A friend of mine posted on Facebook tonight - He said:

"Whilst any thinking person would want a greener world there are two questions to be asked. Can Australia afford it and can we afford it with jobs disappearing at a rate of knots. All sides need to compromise to achieve the ultimate goal."

To which I just couldn't help myself. I had to reply:

"You know what - I'm sick of the jobs argument. My job is based on renewable energy, because I transitioned to it. There's 150 guys working on wind towers where I work and rather than be able to employ far more, they'll ALL lose their jobs if the fossil fuel industry through Abbott gets their way. And by the way, many of them transitioned to the renewables industry from other sectors for exactly the same reasons as me - creating a career in a positive industry.

The one way we can ensure a major economic collapse and job losses in this country is if we continue to invest billions in white elephant fossil fuel assets. We're told again and again how China will reduce and then stop buying coal from us (thank God), yet we continue to go at it as if the reverse is happening!

Heard of the Mortlake gas-fired power station? It's $850 MILLION dollars of stranded asset because gas can't compete with the cheapest Summer electricity provider, the million householders that have installed their own solar PV systems.

And then there's our stable climate itself. well - what used to be anyway. Even with 0.8c of warming, look at the massive increases in catastrophic natural events. We're absolutely locked in to 1.5c which will be in reality 2c, yet we're constantly "compromising" our limited, REAL WORLD with an artificial financial system that can wipe $Trillions from itself and still recover. Our climate system and the civilisation it supports simply will not.

But to answer your first question - Of course Australia can afford it! That's an insult to the Billions living in real poverty across the globe. Us princesses need to toughen up and at least pull our own weight in this World."

Yes, I'm a little fired-up right now. It might not strengthen our friendship, but sometimes a dose of reality is needed...

China's high-speed rail network - 17/04/2013
While we in Australia continue our perennial debate over high-speed rail between Melbourne and Sydney, China’s network continues to grow at approximately 8km every day – which feels almost as fast as the 300km/h trains themselves.

That is - 9,300km of commissioned track in use today, which will grow to 18,000km by 2015.

With high-speed trains departing every 30 minutes, together with metropolitan subway system trains leaving every three minutes, rail in China is an example to the World of just what is possible with public rail transport.

In what feels like a ride into the future, anyone can for example to take the 1,000km Beijing to Nanjing trip in four hours for approximately $65, and spend under $1 then getting practically anywhere in each city via their subway networks.

And the quality of ride? Just imagine seeing the countryside go by at 300km/h in your allocated airliner-style seat, with not even a ripple in your bowl of noodle soup.

Yes Chinese people are on the move, with more airports being opened and a worrying increase in cars also occurring – but as tailpipe smog increases along with prolonged traffic jams, many Chinese are leaving their new cars at home and taking to rail as it continues to develop at a staggering pace.

30 MW Solar farm near Kerang approved - 22/12/2012
Great news!

Okay let's do a quick comparison. This project against another new power station - the Mortlake Gas-fired power station.

* Mortlake cost $810million for 550MW - Kerang cost $38million for 30MW
* Mortlake cost $1.47million per installed MW - Kerang cost $1.26million per installed MW
* Both have been built for the summer peak load market.
* Both WON'T be used for night-time or baseload power (Mortlake needs a high (peak) price to justify being turned on, and Kerang will not have energy storage)
* Both have high number of employment during construction, and low numbers of ongoing employment (Mortlake has 10 ongoing jobs - Kerang will likely be less than this)
* Mortlake is required to keep sourcing and burning natural gas from the limited gas resource from the Otway basin until it has run out - Kerang has no operating consumption.
* Both have a similar cost for maintenance
* Mortlake produces 500kg of CO2 greenhouse gases per MWh - Kerang does not.
* Power from Mortlake will keep getting more expensive as gas prices rise - Kerang will never need to raise power prices.

And lastly - because of all of this, Mortlake is very likely to be a stranded asset as more renewables get built and is frankly a waste of $810million dollars, which is why the gas giants are fighting so hard against solar right now.
Weekly Times report

Dear mainstream media. - 2/12/2012
I have to admit. I've had a gutfull of your relentless "AWU scandal" investigating/exposing/reporting/repeating. For all of the hype you give it - as an issue it just does not justify the total domination of our media space for all of this time.

Instead - I challenge you to have the same amount of passion for truth in the name of public interest to investigate, report, and expose the very real links between some politicians and the Anthropogenic Climate Change (AGW) denial network - and the links of THIS network to the fossil fuel industry.

The corrupt protection of FFBAU (Fossil Fuel Business as Usual) is very much in the "public interest" to be exposed. AGW is and will exponentially continue to adversely affect us and our descendants and if there was ever a News story worth all of your dedication, passion and efforts - exposing these links are that story.

Are you the mainstream media really committed to your role of reporting news in the public interest, or are content to be collectively as much of the problem on this vital issue as the most extreme anti-AWG columnists amongst you.

Yours sincerely,
Peter Reefman
Portland, Victoria

The rise and fall of big dumb 5kW household solar electricity systems in Vic, and where to from here - 18/11/2012
In 2010 and 2011 it was easy. Victorian households installing solar could get a contract that would not only pay at least 60c for every kWh sold to the grid, but the contract would be locked in till 2024. System prices were cheap because of high Commonwealth Government subsidies coupled with low cost Chinese systems. The key was - put the biggest system on your roof as possible. The bigger the system (up to 5kW), the quicker it would pay itself off. Here's how it worked:
* The system would cost approximately $12k to install (after rebates).
* Finance was typically 7 to 8% as most people put costs onto their home loan
* Energy prices were approximately 23c per kWh
* Solar sales prices (Feed in tariffs - or FiTs) were typically 66c per kWh
* Most houses used approximately 20kWh per day, and of this approximately 7kWh would be used during sunlight hours
* The house's annual electricity bill was approximately $1,800 (consumption and service charges
* Electricity inflation was at least 20%, but expected to be 7% in the long term
* The 5kW system would average 19kWh per day in Victoria

So on an average day the solar would produce all 5kWh of the daytime needs so save 23c x 7, and export 12kWh at 66c - for a total average benefit of $9.53 per day, and even allowing for financing costs, the annual benefit was approximately $2,700.

This obviously meant that the annual bill would actually be a payment of approximately $900.

It sounds great doesn't it? And it was.

There was one important point. Each house has different consumption levels and other variables, and depending on these variables the benefits would vary considerably.

For example, if a house used 100kWh per day (yes they are out there) rather than the more average 20kWh per day, very little solar would be able to be surplus and therefore sold at the 66c. Instead, the system would simply save energy at the 23c. This situation would have an annual benefit of approximately $1,400 so would there NOT eliminate that house's electricity bill.

Fast forward to today - here are the changes in place:
* A FiT of 8c
* Electricity rates of approximately 30c per kWh
* Higher consumption charges
* Lower Commonwealth Govt capital rebates
* Lower solar system prices

The last two changes have to a certain extent canceled each other out, especially on the larger systems.

But using the original example household of 5kW on a 20kWh house, the story changes dramatically because the drop in the FiT.

Now on an average day the solar still produces all 5kWh of the daytime needs so the saving increases with electricity inflation to 7kWh x 30c, but the export drops to 12kWh x 8c - for a total average benefit of $2.92 per day, and now once financing costs are included, the annual benefit is approximately $170. Yes that's a massive drop in benefit.

Very interestingly, a small 1.5kWh system on this house will actually give a HIGHER annual benefit - approximately $200 per year. Because it is going to be able to achieve the same savings, and have far less financing costs.

On the other hand, the 100kWh household still has a benefit of approximately $800 per year, because again - most of the energy produced will be used for savings.

So how can a 5kW system benefit a household over $2,000 like some solar companies are still claiming? Here's how:
* There can be no financing costs allowed for
* The house needs to use more than 5kW at any time during the day
* Consumption costs need to be 30c or more

All of these are POSSIBLE. But not likely - especially the first two.

So what can we do? How can we justify getting a solar system?

The first option is to get a system small enough to be all about savings. This size needs to be chosen carefully based on actual and expected daytime energy consumption.

And the second option is to get a smart system that can store surplus daytime energy to use later at night. This is called a solar grid/battery hybrid system. I'll talk more about these systems very soon.

But in closing, be VERY wary of any solar company still advertising 5kW systems that fail to offer the above advice. I know of companies that are pretending nothing has happened, and are relying on people assuming that they'll get the same benefits as people who bought back in 2010-2011. This is obviously not true.

Why stop at 100% renewable Australia? - 17/11/2012
A recent conversation I had in China with a very switched-on solar company representative turned up a very interesting question.

With all of Australia's available renewable energy, why are our best, most committed renewable energy advocates simply asking for our existing demand to be 100% renewable? Why not become a world manufacturing powerhouse based on being able to produce goods with zero energy (and carbon) costs?

It was a lightbulb moment for me, and came up in a very long discussion about wages in China, demand for solar and other renewables across the World, climate change and climate policy, and country by country competitive advantages.

And one of the biggest competitive advantages of the future will be an ability to create products that have a zero carbon production.

Her opinion was that China currently held a very valuable advantage - a high capacity to produce and extremely low wages. But China had some real problems to overcome which may stifle that advantage. They included:
* Horrifically high levels of local air pollution and global greenhouse gas emissions which needed to be curbed
* Rising wages
* Increasing difficulty to provide enough energy from ANY sources
* International trade barriers
* Limited renewable energy resources compared to its population and consumption base

Australia's international competitive disadvantages on the other hand were very high wages, a high value dollar, and very high carbon energy production.

Her opinion from the outside looking in was that Australia seemed to be locked into supporting multi-national fossil fuel energy companies for the vast majority of its energy needs. The reason seemed to her to be effective lobbying to politicians through our democratic system to convince the public that the economy would collapse if we lost the (relatively small amount of) jobs to these companies - even though research had proven that renewable energy provided much more employment.

So back to the question - Why can't Australia not only replace our existing energy with renewables, but also then keep building renewable energy generators to power new industries to produce low-carbon goods for exporting to the rest of the World?

Of course our politicians and the existing energy suppliers would have a whole book of excuses - but it's certainly good food for thought I think.

The coming fight over solar growth and solar rights - 8/10/2012
There are 1.5 MILLION solar powered homes in Australia now, out of 8 million in total. All have invested $thousands on their system, and most have based their purchase on the returns available through lowering their bills from energy saving and rebates.

At least the same amount of people will install over the next 2-5 years. The sheer number of households/people/voters is now huge and politically significant.

Most of these homes are in outer suburban and regional areas - many of those are marginal Federal & State seats, again - politically significant.

Meanwhile, almost all State Govts have drastically pulled back the amount of money new households with solar will get, as they buckle to lobbying from the fossil fuel giants -

But there are potentially even more disincentives on the table - such as:
* Much higher daily service charges for solar
* Mandatory gross metering (which means houses with solar would have to sell ALL their solar power cheaply, before re-purchasing their OWN solar power from the grid at a much higher price
* AND... the removal of the right to disconnect from the grid (to stop people going totally off-grid to avoid these draconian proposals)

Pretty shocking - but I'm personally confident that the many millions of solar owners will mobilise against this at the ballot box, and one thing more important to pollies than industry lobbying, is winning elections.

So what do we do? What can you do? As this fight heats up (and it will), be sure to stand up and be counted as an existing or future solar household.

We need to send a fast, loud and clear message that it is our right to invest our own money to use clean energy to insulate us from rapidly rising energy costs, and we won't let the energy giants rip us off to protect their huge profits.

Solar purchase timing and paybacks - 12/09/2012
A solar question I often get is "So, am I better off buying now, or waiting a few years for the price of solar to come down & the price of power to go up?"

It's a good question, and I'm pretty confident I can give an accurate answer.

But before the numbers/dates, I need to stress that this is VERY house specific and needs some assumptions. Here's the stats:
* House daily average energy consumption - 16kWh (this is the National average)
* Solar System size - 1.5kW (a small system)
* Starting price on energy - 28c peak; 12c off-peak (typical today)
* Starting price on service charges - 68c (Origin's daily charge)
* Starting price on Feed in Tariff - 8c (this is the new Victorian FiT)
* Energy inflation - 10% (an educated assumption over the next 10-15 years)
* Financing rate for system purchase - 7% (today's typical mortgage rate)
* Metering cost - $400 (typical is $330 but sometimes more)
* Expected fall in Solar system install cost - 7% (this is the trend over the last couple of years)

Also, at the end of this current financial year (June 2013) the Federal Govt will reduce rebates to the tune of about $900. So system costs will go UP before doing a long steady fall from then on.

Cost | Yr purchased | Yrs to pay off | Yr pd off
$4,000 | 2012 | 11 | 2023
$4,900 | 2013 | 12 | 2025
$4,557 | 2014 | 10 | 2024
$4,238 | 2015 | 9 | 2024
$3,941 | 2016 | 8 | 2024
$3,665 | 2017 | 7 | 2024
$3,408 | 2018 | 6 | 2024
$3,169 | 2019 | 5 | 2024
$2,947 | 2020 | 4 | 2024
$2,740 | 2021 | 4 | 2025

PS - The "Cost" is system cost PLUS metering cost.

Notice the years to pay off goes down and down and down (and down) from 2014 onwards - but the actual year PAID off stays steady. As you can see the quickest to pay off is still in this current financial year because of the known rebate reduction. And yes this is with the 8c Victorian Feed in Tariff.

I'm doing other scenarios, such as households with higher consumption, and/or with larger systems. Let me know if you'd like to see and I'll post them here.

Or if you'd like to do your own sums on exactly your own situation, you can download the spreadsheet tool I've created at Solar Sizing Tool


Sustainable House Day 2012 - Photos - 11/09/2012
Check out all the photos taken during this year's SHD

Sustainable House Day 2012 - 6/09/2012
Here's a promo for Portland's SHD 2012

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